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Kansas is still a work in progress

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“I think we played better than them in the first half.”

That’s the first thing that Tyshawn Taylor said to the group of reporters that managed to track him down outside of the Kansas locker room 45 minutes after the game had ended.

And you know what? He was right.

A lot of Kentucky’s struggles were self-inflicted. Marquis Teague was playing out of control, Kentucky was breaking off their sets too early, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis were taking some ill-advised shots. But some of the credit deserves to fall on the shoulders of the Jayhawks. They were the ones that made the steals when Teague threw a bad pass. They were the ones that played solid — and well-prepared — defense, helping to frustrate Kentucky’s players into playing 1-on-1 basketball. And most importantly, they were the ones that capitalized on the Wildcat mistakes, jumping out to a 10-3 lead early and extending that lead to 21-14 at the under twelve timeout.

Kentucky made a push to get the game tied at the half, but Kansas could go into the locker room feeling pretty good about the 20 minutes that they had just played. The Jayhawks had held Kentucky to 38.5% shooting from the floor and forced 12 turnovers.

The second half was a different story.

“We had a lot of turnovers,” Taylor said, “it was our mistakes, and they made us pay for it. One of the main things we wanted to focus on was taking care of the ball. There’s different reasons that we didn’t, but that’s what cost us.”

And while the loss hurt — Taylor said after the game that he felt like his team had lost the championship — its important that Kansas doesn’t ignore the positives from this game. They hung with the most talented team in the country for 20 minutes and didn’t quit after they dug themselves a 17-point second half hole. There are positives to take out of this game.

I know its weird to read, and even weirder to write, about moral victories when you’re talking about Kansas, one of the top five programs in the history of the game, but its just one of those years for Kansas. The Jayhawks were crushed by early-entry after last season, with Josh Selby following the Morris Twins out the door and into the lockout. Kansas also lost starters Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed, valuable role players that could shoot and defend. Combine that with the swing-and-misses that Self has had on the recruiting trail over the last year or two and the fact that three of the Jayhawk recruits — including Ben McLemore, the star of Self’s 2011 class — were ruled ineligible by the NCAA.

What does it all mean?

The Jayhawks have no bench. Their front court depth starts Kevin Young, a transfer from Loyola Marymount, who is actually playing behind Justin Wesley, a walk-on transfer from Lamar, where he averaged 1.2 ppg and 1.3 rpg. Connor Teahan, a former walk-on that finally earned a scholarship last year, played 23 minutes last night.

The guys that do play are all feeling their way through new and expanded roles. Taylor and Thomas Robinson are now the focal points of this offensive attack and expected to be in the running for all-league teams. Elijah Johnson, Jeff Withey and Trevor Releford are all seeing their first significant minutes since they entered the program. All three are former top 50 recruits.

“This was definitely a learning experience for a young team like us,” Taylor said. “We got a lot of young guys, guys that just haven’t been in this position before, pressure situations like this. I think we can definitely watch tape and learn from this.”

“It sucks to lose like this, but its a learning experience. We just gotta build.”

Kansas still has plenty of chances to learn before they start Big 12 play. They kick off the Maui Invitational next week against Georgetown. The host Long Beach State, Ohio State and Davidson in September before heading out to LA to take on USC. There will be plenty of opportunities for this team to learn and plenty of room for them to grow.

“We’re only two games in. We just got to keep working hard and I think we’re going to be where we want to be pretty soon.”

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.